Menu Search
Jump to the content X X
SmashingConf London Avatar

We use ad-blockers as well, you know. We gotta keep those servers running though. Did you know that we publish useful books and run friendly conferences — crafted for pros like yourself? E.g. our upcoming SmashingConf London, dedicated to all things web performance.

The Bare Bones That Every Freelance Contract Should Have

There are many templates out there for contracts that freelancers can adopt but eventually, you may have to create one for a specific unorthodox project or maybe you just want to take the time to devise your own template. In this article, you will find what could be considered the bare bones that every contract should address.

Here are some other contract resources that you can view to help you when writing your contract.

The Brief Link

In this section of your contract, go ahead and explain the details of the project and what is defined as ‘completion’. If you wish, you can also add project specifics here.

Timeframes and Deadlines Link

In this section of your contract, you want to address and specify when it is that you are expected to have things done by. Outline periodic milestones. It is also a good idea to work in a line of 7 days grace in case circumstances arise on your end or your PC doesn’t play nice for a few days, etc! Furthermore, outline when the client has to complete their side of things by.


“Client must supply finalized and proofed content by [date]. If this date is exceeded, [company] can not be held responsible for late project completion.”


Money, Money, Money Link

You want to get paid right? Then you need to outline:

  • How you are going to get paid
  • The amount
  • When you will be paid
  • Consequences / action for non / late -payment

Outline that the deposit is non-refundable and that it must be fully paid before work commences.
Late payment = late start! Outline how deviations from the brief that result in extra work / time spent in relation to the project will be billed accordingly.

And If Things Go Bad… Link

Be sure to include a section that addresses your procedure if the project takes a turn for the worse. Such as a professional dispute, non-payment, the client cancels. Here, you want to include a fee if this happens.


“cancellation of a project results in this amount to be paid.”

This amount can be X percentage of the total due or you can devise a formula that figures out about how much time you spent on the project, etc.

In this section, depending on the type of work – details regarding who is to blame for misspelled text and omissions, etc.

Who’s Work Is It Anyway? Link

A small section can’t go amiss stating the obvious of the agreement. The work is your property until full payment is made and that they promise to not infringe upon any copyrights in the creation of your work.


Writing Link

Be cold, concise and pragmatic. It’s always nice to know you have a signed contract to fall back upon. I have hard time understanding freelancers who want to keep their contracts to just one sheet of paper to not daunt clients. No serious client will be fearful if you explain the purpose of the contract to protect both you and them.

If you address everything and your contract is only one sheet of paper… fair enough, but skimping here a little and there a little on your freelance contract can be devastating in the long run. Just ask the many freelancers who wish they would have devised a contract before experiencing the worst clients possible. You can read some horror stories about clients here4.

Thank you for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, please re-tweet it. You can also share your freelance contract with us by placing a link to it on the comments below.

Footnotes Link

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4

↑ Back to top Tweet itShare on Facebook

I am a 23 yr old entrepreneur, designer, blogger, scientist from London, UK. Thanks for reading through whatever I was rambling about this time. I blog about business here, design here, and talk nonsense on just about everything here. Follow me on Twitter. Take care!

  1. 1

    The really challenging part I find is the scope of the project. It’s extremely difficult (impossible?) to know exactly what a project will end up requiring in the end, and I like to give clients as much leeway with this as possible, but you have to draw the line somewhere eventually. Still haven’t found an easy way of doing that.

  2. 2

    @Jacques – I agree! Deposits are very important. How much do you usually ask from the client? I normally get 50% deposit up front.

    @Michael Martin – You’re right, the Project Scope is a tough one for me as well.

    but you have to draw the line somewhere eventually

    Exactly! That is very important to do.

    @logolitic – Thanks! Mel did a great job with this article.

    @Shanna – Thanks for reading! BTW, some great advice you gave. I definitely agree with asking more questions. You can’t go wrong with doing that.

  3. 3

    Thanks for the informative article. It is so easy for freelancers to get so caught up in the actual work that they overlook the very important business side of things!

  4. 4

    Good Information, Thanks.

  5. 5

    @Carla Howatt – Yes, that is so true. I think it is very important to find the right balance between the two.

  6. 6

    A very informative and useful article,

    The only reason why some freelancers don’t want to use such detailed contracts are because it might scare the client away. That’s why it’s very important to really inform your client, tell them what is inside the contract, and then they can read your contract afterwards, and understand your reasoning.

    It is for example much nicer for a client to hear:

    “Of course if I’d receive your finalized and proofed content late, then you must agree that my work will be delayed” and afterward read through the contract and understand why this is mentioned in the contract.

    instead of reading:

    “Client must supply finalized and proofed content by [date]. If this date is exceeded, [company] can not be held responsible for late project completion.” While not knowing why or what is precisely meant with this.

    Contracts ain’t everything though, communication is just as important, do keep that in mind.

  7. 7

    @Daniel – Good point! But if you read the article closely, Mel emphasizes that it is very important to explain to the client the contract. Also, if a client is really genuine and not looking to rip you off, I doubt that they would say no to signing the contract.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the article!

    @Pro Photographer – That makes sense. Retainer fee does sound like a good word to use, but I think most clients don’t understand what that word means.

  8. 8

    Pro Photographer

    November 28, 2009 12:36 pm

    I really like the outline. It is similar to the format my lawyer has written for my general use. One point that really needs to be changed is the term “deposit”. This is a very bad word in the design world as well as in general. By law any funds submitted, held or partial payment that is listed as a deposit WILL NOT PROTECT YOU AND YOUR FUNDS. The word deposit negates any language about funds given to you even when the client flakes and leaves. PLEASE ONLY USE USE “RETAINER” or “RETAINER FEE”. This is the correct real law phrase that protects you in the contract. I have had more than one designer that I have met that had to learn this the hard way.

  9. 9
  10. 10

    @Mel – Thanks for sharing those additional resources. They are very useful!

  11. 11

    Thanks for the post. I quit doing freelance for a while because I kept getting screwed on compensation… then I decided to get serious about my work and what I’m worth. A few FT freelance friends of mine gave me pointers on developing a strong contract, one that protects me, my work and makes the relationship beneficial for both myself and the client. Since then my freelance business has been smooth sailing (type on wood). Having a solid contract is absolutely essential for a creative to have successful business exchanges.

  12. 13

    Great Article! There is a fine line between marketing and taking advantage of the customer’s ignorance, which are cleared up during the contract phase. Good marketing is built upon with definition of the complete project scope, disclaimers, as well as ad-on services (at cost) in the contract. Nepharious companies and contractors take advantage of the many undefined grey areas. Anyone failing to provide a complete contract is setting themselves up for failure.

    Su needs to tackle “selling web creativity” or how to sell new design fundamentals for websites when the owners want 20 foot long single pages, animated gifs and/or a logo that was stolen from ClipArt?

    • 14

      Anyone failing to provide a complete contract is setting themselves up for failure.

      I totally agree with that statement! Why set up ourselves to fail when a simple contract can save so much drama?

    • 15

      I agree with you Lisa. I actually turned down a customer for the first time last week, and honestly it felt very liberating. It just felt like I would have ended up bleeding out for this guy.

      The biggest hurdle for me has been to create phases for a project, which breaks things down into smaller billings that the local clients in my rural area can handle. If I don’t do this, I end up charging too little and selling myself too short, or not doing the best that I can do for myself and the client in the long run. It’s a learning process of self respect that is happening organically. After all, I’ve only been at it for about two years total, so I’m still very wet behind the ears. I’ve heard horror stories of others who have been through similar birthing stages but with much bigger contracts. ;) The learning process for them was getting badly burned a few times. Overcoming these hurdles will enable me to develop a thicker spine and a seasoned sense of how to negotiate a project from the get go.

  13. 16

    Thanks for the thought-out, detailed comment. It definitely adds more value to the article.

    Many projects develop scope creep if the details are not set and agreed upon in an initial outlined contract.

    If for no other reason to have a contract, that statement probably sums it all up. Scope creep can definitely happen without a well-written, detailed contract.

  14. 17

    Thank you Shay. I’d definitely like to see your contract. By the way, great job on your blog. I really enjoy reading your articles.

  15. 18

    Thank you for writing this article. Many more people are freelancing today because of the economic downturn and they need to know about freelance contracts to protect themselves. I plan to share this link with others via Twitter and Linkedin.

    • 19

      You are welcome Randall. Freelancing is definitely something that has been gaining popularity. It is very important however that people be prepared and ready when freelancing and having a contract definitely does that.

      Thanks for sharing the article! :)

  16. 20

    Thanks for putting up a really good framework. We all need to work out how we are going to get paid and what happens to our money if things go wrong mid project. Thanks.

  17. 21

    Keep up the good work! I higly recommend to work as a online freelancer if you want to make some money and you have to enjoy writing.

  18. 22

    Many more people are freelancing today because of the economic downturn and they need to know about freelance contracts to protect themselves. I plan to share this link with others via Twitter and Linkedin.Marc

  19. 23

    It’s the best time to make a few plans for the long run and it is time to be happy. I have learn this submit and if I may just I wish to suggest you few attention-grabbing issues or advice. Perhaps you could write subsequent articles relating to this article. I desire to learn even more issues approximately it!


↑ Back to top